May 18, 2011

Why Walk?

The weather is starting to change and the smell of spring and summer are in the air. The desire to get out of the house is becoming stronger. So what should you do? Go for a walk. Yes, something as simple as a walk can help relieve pent-up spring rain-storm blues, increase circulation and promote a healthier lifestyle.

At SSPC we’ve decided to focus some blog articles on two subjects, “Walking For Health” and “Running For Health.” We’ll address one or two aspects of these exercises each week, give you all the facts, and hopefully make it easier for you to start AND continue, perhaps for the rest of your life.

So, since one walks before they run, we will begin with walking. As physicians, we will remind you that any exercise program should have the approval of your doctor before starting.

To reinforce the value of exercising in general and walking in particular, here are 10 specific facts on the benefits of walking. (We are borrowing from Wendy Bumgardner’s 2010 article on about.com where she lists the “Top 10 Reasons to Start Walking.”) Read carefully.These motivating facts might surprise you.

Here they are:

1. Walkers Live Longer. According to Ms. Bumgardner, a 12-year Honolulu Heart Study of 8,000 men discovered that by walking just two miles a day, the risk of death nearly cut in half. In particular, the chance of cancer was greatly reduced.

Nearly all exercises, including walking, go a long way toward protecting the heart and the circulatory system because they raise the HDL (good cholesterol), recharge the immune system and keep weight down.

2. Walking Reduces the Risk of Cancer. Study after study shows that walking significantly reduces the chance of cancer, particularly breast cancer and colon cancer. For those undergoing cancer treatments, walking has been shown to improve the chance of recovery and survival.

3. Walking Reduces the Chance of Heart Disease and Stroke. This is a 2-for-the-price-of-1 that nobody should pass up. The amount of supporting medical research is profound: A moderate walking program for 30 minutes a day improves the heart and goes a long way toward preventing heart disease.

4. Walking Reduces Stress, Depression and Blood Pressure. Moderate exercise, like walking, has been shown to reduce emotional stress and depression. Other studies have shown that rather than one long walk, three or four short, brisk walks throughout the day can control and lower blood pressure.

5. Walking Reduces the Risk of Diabetes. Walking for 30 minutes a day cuts the risks of getting Type 2 diabetes in both men and women.

6. Walking Helps Prevent Weight Gain. According to research by Dr. James O. Hill at the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, if you add 2,000 steps to your current activities, you may never gain another pound. (To lose more weight, simply add more steps per day.)

7. Walking Decreases the Chance of Impotence. We already know that exercise in general increases the sex drive in men and women. For men, walking 3-5 hours per week lowers the chance of erectile dysfunction by 30 percent.

8. Walking Boosts Brain Function. A study by the National Council on Aging found that people over the age of 60 who walked 3+ miles a day or 45 minutes enjoyed increased thinking skills and were mentally sharper.

9. Walking Improves Mood. Nearly all exercise encourages the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “happy drug.” A recent study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that college students who walked regularly had lower stress levels that (a) couch potatoes and (b) strenuous exercisers like runners, which brings us to No. 10.

10. Walking is just as beneficial to your heart as running. According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 30 minutes of walking brings the same risk reduction for heart attacks as running.

And did we mention that a committed walking program is a good way to lose weight, too? If adding 2,000 steps a day to your current activities maintains your weight, then adding 2,001 steps is the first step toward losing weight.

Speaking of numbers, many physicians are seeing that the truest indicator of heart health is a person’s overall activity level, NOT their weight or their BMI (Body Mass Index). In other words, a couch potato is more at risk for heart problems than a person who is overweight or even slightly obese. The point is… just start moving.

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